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THE ART LIFE

(ran PW PS editions)

A writer and an illustrator visit the classroom to share what they know about being artists.

With just 10 minutes of class time left, Megan Duncan clearly was feeling the frustration of being blocked. Lucky for her she had someone to turn to, someone who knows full well what it's like to stare at a blank page and wonder where to start, someone who has lots of experience with meeting deadlines.

"I can't draw," said the fourth-grader, tapping Frank Remkiewicz on the arm and timidly offering up her paper that was blank save for a couple of small squiggly pencil lines.

Remkiewicz, an illustrator and author of some well known childrens' books simply smiled.

"You sound like a real artist," he said with a chuckle before guiding his young charge through the paces of beginning. "Just start with the ground and work from there," he advised as Megan set to the task of drawing "Froggy," the main character in a series of books that Remkiewicz illustrates.

Remkiewicz, who lives in Sarasota, was one of the visitors brought to Mary Giella Elementary School for Author/Illustrator Day. On Thursday, students were given a glimpse at what it was like to be a creator of books. Parents also were invited to meet Remkiewicz and author Kathy Feeney.

With a portfolio stocked with his work over 30 years, Remkiewicz had plenty to show. Besides his illustrations for other writers _ his work on Froggy and Horrible Harry children's book series _ there was one of his own books, Fiona Raps It Up. There was also the work he has copied for other artists who have passed on. Those who buy a Curious George greeting card or poster will find that it was Remkiewicz that drew the character first created by H.A. Rey. Recent printings of the The Pokey Little Puppy also have been drawn by Remkiewicz, as well as the updated (1966) Barnum Animal Crackers box for Nabisco. Another claim to fame is his cover illustration for, Babe the Gallant Pig.

"I did that about a year before the movie came out. If I knew he was going to be a star I would have asked for more (money)," he said jokingly.

While Remkiewicz was showing his work to young artists in the art room, students in the multipurpose room were getting a first-hand account of what it was like to be a writer from Feeney, a freelance writer and journalist who got her start writing for the Walker Junior High School newspaper in Orlando when she was 12 years old.

Feeney, who lives in Tampa, wrote Pandas for Kids and Koalas for Kids, as well as informational books about various states. She had lots to tell about her start in the business as well as the years working as a feature writer for the Tampa Tribune, and more recently, her work writing for a travel magazine.

Her talk came with lots of upbeat advice sprinkled with humorous anecdotes about her youth and how that has factored into her writing.

When it comes to finding a profession, Feeney told her audience, "You can do anything _ but you have to love what you do. Many people figure that out when they're just little kids."

On getting published: well, it could take a while. Her first book took 10 years.

"Most people give up and the secret is not to give up." Feeney said.

On making money: "We don't come here to get rich _ we come here to serve the world. But I am rich in other ways. As a writer I've gone to Paris, Israel, Panama, Ireland, China."

On the ups and downs of life: "Nothing bad happens to a writer, it's all material," she said. "If you get an "A' on your paper you can write about that. If your dog dies, that's really sad, but you can put those emotions down on paper and remember them that way."

The presentations by Feeney and Remkiewicz provided a definite inspiration for students, said art teacher Bruce Werthwien.

"They're tickled to have them here," he said. "I try to tell the children about all the different facets of being an artist, but to have an actual artist in the room holding up a book that they've illustrated _ it brings it to life for them."

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